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First Group Of Released Hostages Now In Israel; 24 Hostages Released On Day 1 Of Israel-Hamas Truce; Biden: Eliminating Hamas Is A "Legitimate Objective". Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 24, 2023 - 15:00   ET





BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Thank you so much for joining us. It is the top of the hour and we are tracking the remarkable minute-by-minute developments in the Middle East. I'm Boris Sanchez with Jim Sciutto in Washington, and we're joined by Wolf Blitzer, who's live for us in Tel Aviv.

Today, for 24 hostages held by Hamas and other groups since early October, the nightmare is finally over. Thirteen Israeli women and children, ranging in age from 85 to just 2 years old, as well as 11 other foreign nationals, were freed and now safely are in Israel.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Just in the last hour, President Biden addressed those releases. He said the chances of the four-day Israel- Hamas truce being extended are "real." He added that details about tomorrow's group of hostages, the next group to be released, should be arriving soon. He even said, Wolf, within the hour.

He did note as well, though, Wolf, that they - the U.S. is not aware of this point of the condition, the health condition, of the remaining hostages.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And he also pointed out that he hopes this works out, and he says so far it's working out well, but there's still a lot more work to do. The two sides are now about 15 hours into this planned 96-hour pause in the hostility. The sky's silent today, for the first time, actually, since October 7th. We have regional coverage of all of these critical.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is outside the hospital in Tel Aviv, where two hostages are now being treated. Oren, tell our viewers what you're learning.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we are here at Wolfson Medical Center in south Tel Aviv, where two hospitals (ph) have arrived by ambulance. We learned from the Israeli military that other hostages who had been released would be transported by helicopter.

But these two brought here immediately, we are expecting at least three more hostages who have been released to come here for treatment. A doctor who represents the families here says the families are already here waiting to embrace their loved ones after nearly 50 days of waiting. He also says he's had a chance to speak to some of them on the phone. And one of the issues he's learned is they're having some stomach issues so he tried to get a bit of a diagnosis as quickly as he could of some issues they might be facing.

He says it will be a long recovery, but the first critical step here is that they are brought into the arms of their loved ones. The welcome reception here, not only, of course, from the families, but also from the medical staff that will be treating them.

I do want to show you some video from earlier this evening when we were in Hostages Square outside the defense ministry. There, they had what - over the course of the past 50 days, they had essentially a broadcast or an illumination of the pictures of so many of the hostages. And it said in Hebrew at the top there, "habi'u oti habayta achshav" (ph), bring me home now.

And for the first time today, they were able to put up new pictures of the 13 hostages who had been released. The headline now reading, "chazarti habayta," I have returned home.

And of course, mixed emotions there, bittersweet for those who are still waiting for their loved ones to come home, but still very welcoming of the first news of the release of the first 13 hostages under this agreement. And the eager anticipation and the expectation, the hope that more will come home.

So, Wolf, as we come back out here to Wolfson Medical Center, we'll keep you updated. We are hoping to hear from the doctors after they've had time to evaluate the patients that are here, the condition they're in. That, of course, was a huge question mark over the course of the past 50 days. And learn as much as we can about how they're doing, what the reception was like. We'll certainly keep you posted from here in South Tel Aviv at Wolfson Medical Center.

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann, we'll get back to you, of course, with all those updates. We're standing by. We're anxious to hear how these hostages are doing. Thank you very much.

I want to go to CNN's Clarissa Ward right now. She's outside the Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel. That's just outside of Tel Aviv.

Tell our viewers, Clarissa, what you're seeing where you are.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're definitely seeing a lot more activity, Wolf. And actually, I want to step outside of the shot a second so that our cameraman, Scott McWhinnie, can zoom in there onto the helipad that you see behind me.

There had been quite a few ambulances parked up and some paramedics. We saw, though, a definite uptick in activity. Large group of paramedics who were huddling, it seemed like, potentially, just sort of going through plan one more time. We are now expecting, could be, frankly, any minute now. We just don't know, but the arrival of some of those 13 hostages.

This is a children's hospital. They are expecting to receive at least some of those children who range in age as a two, four, five-year-old, a nine-year-old. They're also going to be bringing their mothers, those who have been released with their mothers, here as well so that the families do not have to be separated at any point in time.


And they have gone to great lengths, Wolf, really, to try to create an environment here that is as warm, as intimidating and not imposing. They said they've tried very hard to make it not look like a hospital, to give it the feel of a beautiful hotel. They've taken a lot of care and filled the place with toys. And they have crucially handpicked the staff who will be working with these different families picking the best psychologist, the best social care workers, each family will have a social worker assigned to them, because they are keenly aware and understanding of the fact that these children have been through a tremendous trauma, that they are likely very different to the children that they were once on October 6, that some of them will be getting some very bad news.

We also heard from a spokesperson from the Nir Oz kibbutz, where all of the three children have been residents of as well as some of those Thai workers who release - who were released. And they said that all of these 13 have lost family members or loved ones in the October 7th attacks. And obviously many of them may not yet be aware of that.

So a tremendous amount of effort has gone into the planning of this so that it can be done in the most thoughtful and sensitive way possible. But we're definitely noticing more increased activity, Wolf. And obviously the second we hear any sound of helicopters, we will let you know, Wolf.

BLITZER: We, of course, will get back to you, Clarissa. Thank you very much, Clarissa Ward, over at the Children's Hospital in Petah Tikva, Israel, right outside of Tel Aviv.

Despite the hostage release today, there are still more than 200 who remain in Hamas' hands, according to the IDF, 48 days after they were ripped from their homes. I'm joined now by Yael Nidam-Kirsht, Hamas militants kidnapped her sister-in-law, Rimon, and Rimon's husband, Yagev, from their home in kibbutz Nirim on October 7th.

Yael, thank you so much for joining us.

Your sister-in-law was not part of today's hostage release, but everyone is hoping, of course, she will be released within a few days. Let's hope she is. Could you give us your thoughts on what has happened today so far from your perspective?

YAEL NIDAM-KIRSHT, SISTER-IN-LAW HELD HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: Well, Wolf, thank you so much for having me. I want to say thank you. I'm incredibly excited, and my heart goes out to all of the families that are going to be able to see their loved ones. I think this is an amazing testament to the power of the international community to bring about this achievement of bringing the hostages home.

And when I see each and every person going out of the hell that they've been through in the past almost two months and being hugged by their family, that's exactly what I see myself doing, hopefully very soon. I know that my family are not going to be released, not today, not tomorrow and probably not in this deal, but I will not stop fighting for them. And I'm sure that if the international community will continue the pressure on Hamas, we will bring them home too.

BLITZER: Yael, Rimon, your sister-in-law, was seen in that Hamas- released video nearly a month ago. Some of us remember that video. One of the women in that video with her was released today, Danielle Aloni. What do you feel right now, knowing that someone who was with your sister-in-law is now home?

NIDAM-KIRSHT: I'm feeling hopeful. I'm hopeful and Danielle is probably experiencing a lot of trauma right now, but when she's ready to talk, our family would like to hear from her on the status of my sister-in-law, Rimon. And, of course, we are sensitive to everything that she's going through and we will wait for her to tell us when she's ready.

But as with every family, we think about our loved ones ...

BLITZER: We are - I was going to say, we are all so happy that she has been freed, but go ahead. I'm sorry for interrupting.

NIDAM-KIRSHT: No, thank you. Yes, I'm saying that we're - every family, we just think about our loved ones. We think about them all the time. She's always in our thoughts. Yesterday, we had a Thanksgiving dinner and I had two empty seats in my table with a picture of Rimon and her husband, because they're with me all the time.

And I can't wait to the minute when I can hug them and celebrate the holidays with them. And so I - all I can say is that I'm grateful for this release and I'm grateful for the American people who are standing by the hostages and helping to bring them home.


BLITZER: Have you been given any updates at all on Rimon's condition since Hamas released that video, what, it's almost a month ago, have you received any update at all?

NIDAM-KIRSHT: Well, Hamas does not provide the Red Cross with access to the hostages. So, like all of the other families, I'm completely in the dark. We don't know anything about their conditions, about - yes, about how they're doing. The only thing that we do know is what's happening to the people who have been released.

So when Judith and Natalie from Chicago were released, they were wearing the same clothes that they were kidnapped in two weeks later. When Yocheved Lifshitz was released two and a half weeks after she was captured, we found out that an 85-year-old grandmother has lost 40 pounds. And when the Hamas released the video of my sister-in-law, Rimon, we saw that she was not wearing glasses.

So for all I know, for the past 50 days, she was not able to see. Her eyesight is very poor, so she's there in the dungeon, not able to see, probably very scared. So I just have to continue hoping and to fight until she's back home with me, she and her husband.

BLITZER: And let's hope that is soon, Yael Nidam-Kirsht, thank you so much for sharing some thoughts with us. We really appreciate it. Our hearts go out to you and your family. Thank you once again.

NIDAM-KIRSHT: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Red Cross' role in today's events cannot be understated.

I'm joined now by Fabrizio Carboni. He's the International Committee of the Red Cross' Regional Director for the Near and Middle East.

Fabrizio, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all the important work that the Red Cross does, as we all know.

Tell us how this incredible moment unfolded. How did the Red Cross, for example, coordinate this handoff with Hamas operatives?

FABRIZIO CARBONI, REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR THE NEAR AND MIDDLE EAST, ICRC: Look, we have to coordinate with many, many actors to - I think it's important to allow the hostages to go back home and it's something which takes days to prepare. Sometimes it looks like it's just driving people from one place to another, but it's about agreeing on when, how, what and all this needs to be coordinated with different movements also outside Gaza.

As you know, there were also Palestinian detainees who were released and brought back to their families. So it's extremely complex, it's sensitive and there is also a big sense of responsibility. My colleagues in Gaza know that they can't fail. They know that everything needs to work perfectly, because at the end, you have children, you have women, you have hostages and you have family who are living something which is even hard, I think, to describe.

And so it's a lot of tension. It's a relief when it happens and at the same time, it's a bittersweet feeling. And I think, Yael, just before me, illustrate this. We can't release some hostages and we can't help thinking about the ones who are not released.

BLITZER: Yes, well said. I know, Fabrizio, you can't get into specifics, and we understand that, of course. But walk us through what happens when Red Cross team members take these freed hostages into your care. Is there any update you can provide on their condition?

CARBONI: Look, no, I can just tell you that it's highly, highly emotional. It's this kind of moment when you receive people; children, women who've been through - we can talk about it, but you can't feel it. And suddenly, you have my colleagues, who are in contact with them and try to show all the empathy and possible humanity.

And so, yes, you're a bit stressed also because we shouldn't forget that even if there is this pause, it's still a conflict area so there is this extreme pressure to leave the area and go as soon as possible towards the border and at the same time obviously we communicate, my colleagues communicate with authorities in Israel coordinate with the authority on the border in Rafah in Egypt.


We're obviously also in contact with our colleagues of the MDA in Israel, our colleagues of the Egyptian Red Crescent, the Palestinian Red Crescent. We all tried to make sure that it happens in the best possible conditions.

BLITZER: One final question, Fabrizio, before I let you go, is there any chance Hamas might change its position and allow representatives of the international Red Cross to actually visit the hostages that remain in Gaza right now to get an update on their conditions and potentially help them with some medical requirements they might need?

CARBONI: Look, they have to. They have to. They have to let us visit and I know it's complicated, because it's a battlefield and it's not easy to visit hostages in a battlefield. It usually never happened. It's always outside the battlefield.

And two, they need to give the families a sign of life. They have to. And as ICRC, we've said it repeatedly since day one of this tragedy, that they have to do it. We said it publicly, we said it privately, we said to all actors who have a leverage on Hamas and we will keep on doing it.

Now, if it was only in our hands, it would be solved days ago. And if it was only in our hands, everybody would be released.

BLITZER: Fabrizio Carboni, thank you so much for what you're doing, what the Red Cross is doing. I've spoken to so many family members of these hostages who are just so hopeful that the Red Cross will eventually get permission from Hamas to visit with these Israeli hostages who remain in Gaza right now. So they at least can get an update on how their loved ones are doing.

Thanks once again for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

CARBONI: Yes. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you.

I want to go to Matthew Chance right now. He's over at the Hatzerim airbase in southern Israel. Matthew, I understand you're getting some news. What more are you seeing there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Within the past few minutes, Wolf, there have been a couple of helicopters that have taken off ferrying Israeli hostages away from this Hatzerim airbase in central Israel to various hospitals in the country that, where they'll be getting medical treatment, where they'll be meeting their families and things like that, depending on their particular needs.

The, we're told by the Israeli military here that there will be four helicopters taking off to ferry the Israeli hostages as well as the foreign nationals as well. Remember, there are a number of Thais and a Filipino worker as well who have been released as part of this first group of hostages under the hostage deal to be released.

As I say, two of the helicopters have departed. We're waiting for the other two to take off and make their way sort of above us right now, where we're all standing as a lot of people here, sort of to monitor the next step in this long, complicated, logistical journey out of Gaza and towards their place where they're going to be having medical treatment, psychological counseling and, of course, finally meeting with families.

It's a very - as we've been reporting - a very sensitive time, of course, because not just of the medical situations that have to be addressed, but also the psychological trauma that these individuals are likely to have encountered. And so that's why they've been at this Hatzerim airbase here in central Israel, getting, sort of, initial counseling as well as medical examinations, changing their clothes, having some food, some of them having showers as well.

Obviously, these people have been kept in probably very dire conditions over the course of the past 49 days when they've been held by Hamas. And so, they're being put into a state where they can sort of be moved back to Tel Aviv, to other hospitals and they finally meet up with their loved ones, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance at the Hatzerim airbase for us. Matthew, we'll get back to you, of course, as the news develops.

We're going to take a quick break right now. Our special live coverage of the first hostages released by Hamas continues right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of the fast- moving, very historic developments in the Middle East, the first hostage-prisoner exchange in the Israel-Hamas war. The first group of 24 hostages are now back in Israel after being held captive for nearly seven weeks, almost 50 days.

Moments ago, an IDF spokesman said the coming days of implementing the hostage release deal, the next phases of it will be "complicated." I'm joined now by retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, he's a former Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs under President George W. Bush.

General, thank you so much for joining us.

MARK KIMMITT, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Sure. BLITZER: How does this four-day pause that's beginning right now in the fighting impact the military operations of the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces?

KIMMITT: Yes. Well, I'd say that the IDF in general is probably pretty happy about this prisoner exchange, but I also think they're a little bit worried about this pause. When you're on the offensive, as the IDF has been, and you give the enemy a chance to rest for a little bit, it's going to just be harder for them to continue that attack.


It's the problem of the Rs. The enemy is going to refit, rearm, rest, recuperate, re-plan, so they know that they're going to find in front of them a much tougher enemy than it was four days prior.

BLITZER: So, bottom line, do you believe Hamas will be able to use this temporary pause, this truce, whatever you want to call it, to regroup, rearm and reset?

KIMMITT: I really do. I mean, they've watched the Israeli defense forces come in. They've watched them for the last couple of weeks, how they've been fighting, where they've been fighting, the weapons that they've been using. So, they have a much better appreciation for how the IDF fights, but they own the terrain. They own the city. They own the tunnel system. They own the buildings.

So, now they're going to be able to get themselves in a much better position and that's exactly why they insisted, Hamas insisted that the drones would not be used during this four-day period.

BLITZER: Israel, as you know, is adamant that the truce, the pause right now, is not an end to this war. They're determined, they say, to go ahead and try to completely destroy Hamas, however long that takes. But Israeli officials have also agreed to pause the fighting for an additional day for every 10 hostages, captives freed by Hamas. Do you think that's enough incentive for Hamas to continue releasing hostages?

KIMMITT: Oh, they'll probably negotiate a better deal than that. But this is exactly what Hamas wants to have happen. They want to drip, drip, drip the hostages back, keep this pause, become, in effect, a ceasefire. And while this ceasefire is ongoing, then they work the international community, they work the diplomacy, because they want to see this war end.

And if it ends in the next month, nothing has changed except for the hostages have been returned, they will claim it's a gigantic victory for Hamas.

BLITZER: The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has made it abundantly clear in recent days that after this initial exchange, the war will continue with the eventual goal of completely demolishing Hamas. How does - what does that look like to you? Is that realistic?

KIMMITT: Well, diplomatically, I don't think it's realistic because I don't think that the war will continue after the last hostage is released. If it looks like it will, then Hamas will just slow down the release of the hostages so that this becomes, as I said, a de facto, if not du jour, ceasefire.

I think what the military would like to do is they'd like to get this job done, which is, let's get the hostages back. Let's complete the defeat of Hamas and then hand this Gaza Strip over to the international community. But now, with this leverage that Hamas is using, I don't think that will happen and I don't think the destruction of Hamas is any more a realistic objective that the Israeli defense forces can achieve.

BLITZER: I just want to quickly, before I let you go, General, get your reaction to what we just heard a little while ago from President Biden when he said eliminating Hamas is a legitimate objective. Do you agree with him?

KIMMITT: Well, I think it's a legitimate military objective. Of course it is. Hamas, the Hamas military is a legitimate objective. But I think everybody realizes and the president realizes that even stronger than the Hamas military, which isn't very strong, is the ideology of Hamas and that won't be destroyed even after the current military would be potentially destroyed inside of Hamas.

Meshaal will still be alive. The political structure will still be alive. The ideology will still be alive. So while this Hamas military may be destroyed, which I don't think it will be, the fight lives on in the minds of the Hamas ideologists.

BLITZER: Retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.

And our breaking news coverage of the Israel-Hamas truce will continue right after a quick break.